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Navigating a Title IX Investigation 

Whether you’re a student, staff, or member of the faculty, handling a Title IX investigation can be a daunting experience. Therefore, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the investigation process, as well as your rights and responsibilities during the investigation. This post will take you through some of the steps of reporting, the investigation process for Title IX complaints, interim measures, possible outcomes, and your rights to appeal. Ideally, this information will ensure that you’re more well equipped to handle the proceedings and advocate for a fair investigation. However, with so much at stake, including your academic standing, professional reputation, and future opportunities, having experienced legal representation is crucial. 

If you’re facing a Title IX investigation and need to speak with an experienced Title IX defense attorney, contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP today at 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Our firm, based in Indianapolis, is led by two AITIXA-certified defense lawyers, Bradley Keffer and Tom Hirschauer. Together, they have successfully represented dozens of students and faculty facing allegations of misconduct and discrimination. They understand how the Title IX grievance process works, the difference between student and staff investigations, and what it takes to secure the best possible outcome in the matter at hand. 

Facing a Title IX Complaint in Indiana?

The Basics of Title IX in 2024 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a landmark federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The legislation was enacted to ensure gender equity in education, opening doors for women and men to have equal opportunities in academic and extracurricular activities. Since its passage, Title IX has been instrumental in advancing gender equality, particularly in athletics and academic institutions. 

Key Provisions and Protections under Title IX 

  • Ensuring equal opportunities in sports and academics. 
  • Protecting against sexual harassment and assault. 
  • Providing pregnancy and parenting accommodation. 
  • Ensuring fair treatment in admissions and employment practices. 

These protections aim to create an inclusive and equitable environment where all students, staff, and faculty can thrive without fear of discrimination. 

Current Scope of Title IX 

Following the 2024 Title IX Updates, the law covers a wide range of issues related to sex-based discrimination, including but not limited to discrimination based on sex, which encompasses any form of unequal treatment or bias based on an individual’s sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. It also addresses sexual harassment, defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, creating a hostile environment. Additionally, Title IX includes sexual assault, which involves any non-consensual sexual act prohibited by law, including rape, fondling, incest, and statutory rape.  

Title IX applies to all educational institutions that receive federal funding, encompassing K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and vocational programs. This broad scope ensures that educational environments are safe and equitable for everyone, regardless of their gender. 

Overview of the Title IX Grievance Process 

The Title IX grievance process typically begins when a complaint of sex-based discrimination, harassment, or assault is filed. Complaints can be submitted by the individual who experienced the alleged misconduct (the complainant) or by a third party who has knowledge of the incident. Complaints can be filed through various channels, including online forms available on the institution’s website, directly to the Title IX Coordinator, or through anonymous reporting systems. 

Upon receiving a complaint, the Title IX Coordinator conducts an initial assessment to determine whether the reported conduct falls under the scope of Title IX. This assessment involves a preliminary review of the details provided in the complaint to decide if the alleged conduct constitutes sex-based discrimination or harassment as defined by Title IX regulations.  

If the complaint does fall under the scope of Title IX, the Title IX Coordinator will formally notify both the complainant and the respondent (the individual accused of misconduct) of the allegations. This notification includes a detailed description of the alleged conduct, the identities of the parties involved, and any specific policies that may have been violated. The notification also outlines the Title IX investigation process, the rights and responsibilities of both parties, and the available support resources. 

Additionally, the Title IX coordinator may also issue some immediate actions to ensure the safety and well-being of all parties involved. These actions may include no-contact orders, academic adjustments, or temporary suspension. 

Navigating Interim Measures 

When a person has been accused of certain misconduct and the subject of a Title IX investigation, the university may take action and implement interim measures against them. These measures are designed to prevent further incidents of harassment or retaliation.  

Five Common Interim Measures 

  1. No-Contact Orders: Prohibits any form of communication between the complainant and respondent to prevent further conflict or harassment. 
  1. Academic Accommodations: Adjustments to class schedules or extensions on assignments to minimize interaction and ensure academic progress. 
  1. Housing Relocations: Changes to housing arrangements to ensure that the complainant and respondent do not reside in close proximity. 
  1. Temporary Suspensions: Temporary removal of the respondent from the institution to ensure safety and prevent further incidents during the investigation. 
  1. Access to Counseling Services: Provision of counseling and support services to help both the complainant and respondent manage the emotional impact of the investigation. 

While these measures are certainly important in some situations, in other cases these measures may feel punitive even before a determination of responsibility is made. For a person facing false or misleading allegations, harsh interim measures have the potential to negatively impact their daily life, academic/career progress, and mental well-being. When this is the case, the respondent is often best served by hiring a Title IX defense lawyer to assist them in having the measures lifted or reduced. Typically, this is done by presenting evidence and arguments that demonstrate the measures’ unnecessary, overly burdensome, or punitive nature. 

Title IX Investigation Process 

The second step of the Title IX grievance process is the investigation. The Title IX investigation is designed to gather all relevant facts and evidence to determine whether a violation of Title IX policies has occurred. The investigation must be thorough, impartial, and conducted in a manner that ensures fairness to both the complainant and the respondent. Generally, Title IX investigations aim to be completed within 60 to 90 days of the complaint filing. However, the actual duration can vary based on case complexity and evidence availability, as well as when the investigation occurs during the academic year. 

Respondents rights during a title ix investigation

During the investigation period, the Title IX coordinator, or a designated investigator, will interview the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. During these interviews, parties can present their accounts of the incident and provide any supporting evidence. While advisors or Title IX defense attorneys may be present, they typically do not actively participate in the interviews.  

In addition, during the Title IX investigation period, the investigator will also collect relevant evidence, including: 

  • Electronic Evidence: Emails, text messages, social media posts, and other digital communications. 
  • Physical Evidence: Photographs, medical records, and physical objects related to the incident. 
  • Testimonial Evidence: Statements from the complainant, respondent, and any witnesses who can provide relevant information. 
  • Circumstantial Evidence: Indirect evidence that may support or refute the claims. 

Before the final Title IX investigation report is completed, both parties are given the opportunity to review the evidence gathered. This includes any evidence that the school does not intend to rely on in making a determination, as well as evidence that may exculpate or inculpate the respondent. Parties are afforded at least ten days to review and respond to the evidence, challenging its relevance and completeness. 

Final Investigation Report  

Once all evidence has been reviewed and responses considered, the investigator compiles the final Title IX investigation report. This report must include a fair summary of the relevant evidence and does not determine responsibility. Instead, it outlines the facts and evidence that will be presented at the subsequent hearing. Generally, the final investigation report includes:  

  • Summary of Allegations: A clear statement of the allegations made in the formal complaint. 
  • Procedural Steps: A detailed account of the steps taken during the investigation, including notifications to the parties, interviews conducted, and evidence collected. 
  • Findings of Fact: An objective summary of the evidence and facts gathered during the investigation. 
  • Relevant Evidence: All evidence that is considered directly related and relevant to the allegations, available for review by both parties and their advisors. 

Title IX Hearing 

The final investigation report is provided to both parties and their advisors at least ten days before the scheduled hearing. This allows at least some time for preparation, including the development of arguments and cross-examination questions. It is crucial for the parties to thoroughly review the report and understand the evidence that will be presented. 

During a Title IX hearing, both the complainant (the individual who brought the allegations) and the respondent (the individual against whom the allegations were made) are given opportunities to present their sides of the story. The hearing is typically overseen by a hearing administrator, with a panel of adjudicators making the final decision. Advisors, such as Title IX attorneys, for both parties can also be present to challenge the relevance and credibility of the evidence contained in the final Title IX investigation report and conduct cross-examinations. 

It’s important for all respondents to understand that cross-examinations are often a major aspect of Title IX hearings. During this time, advisors for both parties can question the other party and any witnesses. When a respondent chooses to hire a Title IX defense attorney, they often use this part of the hearing to test the credibility and reliability of the evidence and testimonies presented. 

Final Determination and Appeals 

At the conclusion of the hearing, the adjudicators will deliberate on the evidence presented to make a determination of responsibility. They will assess whether the evidence supports the allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct as defined under Title IX. The standard of proof used in these hearings can vary, but it is typically either the “preponderance of the evidence” standard or the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, depending on the institution’s policy. 

Generally, the outcome of the hearing is documented in a written determination report. This report includes and identification of the allegations; a description of the procedural steps taken during the investigation and hearing; findings of fact; conclusions regarding the application of the institution’s Title IX policy to the facts; and a statement of, and rationale for, the result of each allegation. The report also often includes a list of any disciplinary sanctions imposed on the respondent and whether remedies will be provided to the complainant. 

Following the issuance of the written determination, both parties have the right to appeal the decision. The appeal process typically involves submitting a written appeal to a designated office or official within a specified timeframe, usually within 10-15 days of receiving the decision. Grounds for appeal may include procedural errors, new evidence that was not available during the initial investigation, or a claim that the sanctions imposed are disproportionate to the violation. It is important to carefully review the institution’s appeal procedures and to present a well-reasoned argument supported by relevant evidence. Seeking guidance from a Title IX defense lawyer can be beneficial in preparing a strong appeal. 

Disciplinary Actions Following a Title IX Investigation 

Range of Disciplinary Actions When a Title IX investigation concludes with a finding of responsibility against the respondent, the institution must take appropriate disciplinary actions. These actions aim not only to address the specific incident but also to prevent its recurrence and remedy its effects. The range of disciplinary measures can be broadly categorized into educational, restorative, and punitive actions. 

Educational and Restorative Measures Educational and restorative measures focus on correcting behavior and preventing future violations. These measures may include: 

  • Mandatory Training: Respondents may be required to attend workshops or courses on sexual harassment, consent, and respectful behavior. These programs are designed to educate and sensitize individuals about the impact of their actions and promote a safer campus environment. 
  • Counseling: Professional counseling services may be mandated to help the respondent understand and address underlying issues that may have contributed to their behavior. Counseling can also provide support in modifying behavior to prevent future incidents. 
  • Mediation and Restorative Justice Programs: These programs aim to facilitate a dialogue between the complainant and respondent, fostering understanding and potentially repairing harm. Restorative justice approaches can include apologies, community service, or other actions agreed upon by both parties. 
  • Punitive Actions: Punitive actions are more severe and are intended to penalize the respondent for their misconduct. These actions can include: 
  • Probation: The respondent may be placed on disciplinary probation, during which their behavior is closely monitored. Any further violations during this period may result in harsher penalties. 
  • Suspension: Temporary removal from the institution is a common sanction for serious violations. Suspension can last from one semester to several years, depending on the severity of the misconduct. During this time, the respondent is not allowed to attend classes, participate in campus activities, or access campus facilities. 
  • Expulsion: For the most severe cases, the respondent may be permanently expelled from the institution. Expulsion is typically reserved for incidents involving significant harm, such as sexual assault or repeated violations. This action terminates the respondent’s association with the institution, preventing them from enrolling in the future. 
  • Loss of Privileges: This can include banning the respondent from specific campus areas, participation in certain activities, or holding leadership positions in student organizations. 

How an Attorney Can Assist in the Title IX Investigation Process 

Title IX investigations involve intricate procedures, strict timelines, and high stakes for both the complainant and respondent. The complexity of the Title IX process, combined with the potential consequences of a finding of responsibility, makes it imperative for respondents to seek experienced legal counsel. For respondents, a skilled Title IX defense attorney can develop a strategic defense plan tailored to the specifics of the case. This includes: 

  • Evidence Collection and Analysis: Attorneys help gather and analyze all relevant evidence, ensuring that no critical information is overlooked. They can also challenge the inclusion or exclusion of certain evidence based on relevance and fairness. 
  • Witness Preparation: Preparing witnesses to provide clear, credible, and consistent testimony is essential. Attorneys can coach witnesses on how to respond to questions effectively and handle cross-examination. 
  • Cross-Examination Strategy: During the hearing, the ability to cross-examine the complainant and other witnesses is a key component of the defense. An experienced attorney can craft strategic questions to challenge the credibility and reliability of the opposing party’s evidence and testimony. 

In addition, an experienced Title IX defense attorney will ensure that the respondent’s rights are being protected throughout the Title IX investigation process. This means monitoring the process to ensure that it adheres to legal standards and the institution’s policies and identifying and addressing any potential biases or conflicts of interest among the Title IX personnel involved in the case. Ultimately, if the initial ruling is unfavorable, a Title IX defense attorney may also assist in filing an appeal. They can argue procedural errors, the discovery of new evidence, or potential biases that may have affected the outcome, aiming to overturn or modify the decision. 

In situations where disciplinary action is inevitable, a Title IX defense attorney may focus their work on minimizing the respondent’s consequences. In some situations, this may involve negotiating with the institution to seek less severe sanctions, focusing on educational or restorative measures rather than punitive actions. In other situations, this could involve the attorney helping manage the respondent’s public image and mitigate reputational harm by ensuring that the case is handled discreetly and professionally. 

Are You the Subject of a Title IX Investigation? 

If you’re the subject of a Title IX investigation, the importance of hiring a Title IX defense attorney cannot be overstated. The expertise, strategic planning, and advocacy provided by an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of a Title IX case. By protecting your rights, ensuring due process, and working to minimize the long-term consequences, a Title IX defense attorney is an invaluable ally in navigating these complex and high-stakes proceedings. 

To speak with a Title IX defense attorney today, contact Keffer Hirschauer LLP today at 317-857-0160 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation. While our firm is based in Indianapolis, we represent students, faculty, and staff all across the nation.

Summary
Navigating a Title IX Investigation 
Article Name
Navigating a Title IX Investigation 
Description
This article breaks down how to best navigate a Title IX investigation
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Keffer Hirschauer LLP

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